Series following the work of probate researchers. It is an emotional journey for heirs who learn how their father's army deeds made him one of WWII's silent heroes.
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Today, our heir hunters uncover long-forgotten tales
of families reshaped by conflict.
From there, you might be able to find a death...on mortality.
The first case has its roots planted firmly in London's East End...
It looks, at the moment, like that stem is dead.
..and a second unearths family members who were heroes of war.
I feel very proud of my father, because...
..he went through such a lot to give us what we've got today.
It's a tough life on the front-line for the heir hunters.
Today, heir hunters at London-based probate genealogist firm
Fraser & Fraser are working on a case advertised
on the government legal department's unclaimed estates list.
When someone dies with no obvious next of kin,
and without leaving a will,
the search begins for beneficiaries to inherit their estate.
So, you end up with more than one.
We might be lucky.
Anne Harris was born on 10th August, 1916, in East London,
and she died on 26th March, 2013, in Tooting, aged 97.
Anne spent most of her life in the East End,
so travelling researcher Ewart Lindsay has been sent
by the team to her last known address in Stepney,
to see if he can find neighbours who knew her
and who can provide clues to her life.
First of all, I will speak to immediate neighbours...
to...to where Mrs Harris lived.
Then I'll extend it out to neighbours, you know,
beyond where she used to live.
He's not giving up.
After 25 years on the road, he knows that patience is a virtue.
How long have you been living here?
Finally, Ewart's found a neighbour who remembers Anne's family.
She's just provided him with a vital piece of information.
Anne had a brother, Jack, who lived with her in this block of flats.
Take care. All the best. Thank you.
To us, it's a massive help.
I mean, she's given us a brother,
the name of the brother, you know...
And he obviously lived here as well, so it's...
..it's good information to us.
On the whole, it's been a good day, you know.
I think we're nearer to finding family now...
..which is the main objective.
In the office, case manager Gareth Langford has been hard at work
trying to crack Anne Harris' case.
So, when the government legal department released
the information, they gave us some basic details.
Anne Harris passed away in 2013.
We know that she'd been married,
and we know that her maiden name was Myers,
but we're obviously still dealing with a Harris surname.
The first task is to locate Anne Harris's marriage certificate,
so the team can begin to build her family tree.
We know that she was married to Norman David Harris,
but we're not too interested in him. We're really interested in Annie.
And she's known as Annie Myerovitch and she's 32 years old, a spinster.
She's living in... in the Poplar area,
and she's the daughter of Lewis Myerovitch,
who's a lost property dealer.
So, there's quite a lot of information there.
We've got an address that will be very useful to us, but,
most importantly, we've got some new names. The next step, really,
was locating that all-important birth certificate.
What made this search tricky was the fact that
her name is Anne Myers,
but, erm...Myers is obviously anglicised, so Myerovitch,
so the family may switch between Myerovitch and Myers,
so that makes the search that much harder.
So, finding her birth is a lot harder, because you need to do
several searches rather than just one straight search.
So, I found her birth.
She was actually born in the September quarter of 1916
in Mile End.
And on the birth certificate, Anne was registered as Annie.
We have a great deal of difficulty when families change their name
in identifying not only their original surname,
but often the first names as well,
because they often will anglicise the first name.
This is especially the case with Jewish families who,
during the wars, often changed their name
so the names appeared more...British, I'd say.
So, with Anne's name confirmed, and her birth certificate found,
the next step is to locate her parents' marriage,
and from this, the family tree can grow.
Once found, it showed that Anne's father had also
anglicised his first name on her marriage certificate.
They married in Mile End in December quarter of 1915.
Her father was Lazarus Myerovitch, and her mother was Kate Maginsky.
Armed with both Anne's parents' names,
the next step is to find brothers and sisters for her.
And after Ewart's initial detective work,
the team verify that she did have at least one brother - Jack Myers.
He was born in 1923, and we couldn't find any other records for him.
We couldn't find a marriage record,
but what we did locate was his death record.
He passed away on 13th February, 2009.
Again, living in Tower Hamlets, so he hadn't gone far.
Doesn't look like the family have moved anywhere, really.
Jack Myers was an East Ender through and through.
And, as the team delve deeper into his past,
they discover that, as a young Jewish lad, aged just 13,
he had become embroiled in a clash with antifascist demonstrators
on his home turf, spurred on by the terror Jews were facing in Europe.
It was the mid-1930s.
There was high unemployment, and poverty,
and people were turning to extreme political parties.
In Italy, in Germany, fascists had taken power.
In Spain, there was a bloody civil war going on with fascists
struggling to take power there.
And, in Britain, the British Union of Fascists,
a new fascist political party, was set up by Sir Oswald Mosley.
Mosley was a British politician, and a close ally of fascist Italy.
Aged 22, he became the youngest MP in the House of Commons.
He formed the British Union of Fascists in 1932,
and wasn't a fan of multicultural Britain.
There were immigrants in the East End from all over Europe,
from Germany, from Italy,
and there was a big population of immigrant Jews in the East End,
and these were the scapegoat for the British Union of Fascists.
They blamed the Jews for the economic problems that were
hitting the East End so very hard.
The final straw was in October 1936, when the British Union of Fascists
planned a march through the streets of the East End.
It was a deliberately intimidatory act.
It was October 4th and 100,000 counterdemonstrators came
to the streets of the East End to protest against the fascist march.
There, they blocked Cable Street in an attempt
to bring the march to a halt.
There were 10,000 policemen on duty that day to try to force a way
through for the fascists to march because they had a right to march -
that was their legal right.
But Jack Myers and his fellow protesters
were successful in their mission.
Eventually, the police realised that the popular feeling in East End
was against this march,
and they re-routed it, and the march fizzled away.
But the march left around 175 casualties in its wake,
and the unruly events of that day have since been dubbed
the Battle of Cable Street.
It was a historic day for the East End,
because it was the first time that people came together
from all different communities,
young and old, Protestant and Catholic, Jew and non-Jew
came together to defend the streets of the East End
as a place where people must live and could live together.
Back in the office,
the hunt for Anne Harris's relatives was continuing.
The team were looking further into Jack's life
to see if he had provided any heirs.
From the information on his record, we know that he was a market trader.
..that it didn't look like, from the death record,
that he had any family, or certainly no children.
So the trail for Anne's heirs had reached a dead end, with both
Anne her brother Jack passing away with no immediate next of kin.
But it wasn't long before a new clue came to light
that would bring Anne Harris's case back to life.
It came to light that the executor of Jack Myers' estate,
when he died in 2009,
was a Neil Myers. Sharing the family name, who was he?
The obvious thing for us to do was locate Neil and speak to him,
try and find out how was he connected to the deceased.
Unfortunately for us, he was living in the United States,
and we couldn't actually track him down,
but what we were able to do was find a birth record for him.
And from that birth record, we noted that he had brothers and sisters.
And, from that record, we could start working backwards
and tie in his family to our deceased.
Neil Myers' birth records revealed that his father
was one Barnett Lionel Myers, also known as Myerovitch.
With these two surnames listed, the heir hunters surmised that
Barnett must have had a connection to Anne.
Next, the team had to locate his birth record.
The reason we had trouble trying to locate the birth record
of Barnett was it comes back down to variants of the names.
Not only were we dealing with a variant of the surname,
but also the maiden name. In fact, quite dramatic variants.
So, on the normal search, he wouldn't come up.
But now we had his Christian name, Barnett,
we could look at all of the variants and really do a detailed search.
And, eventually, we found his birth record in Whitechapel in 1919.
And with Barnett's birth record in hand,
the team managed to trace his parents.
They discovered they were none other than Lazarus Myerovitch
and Kate Maginsky.
Barnett was Anne Harris' brother.
It was already known that Barnett had one son, Neil,
so the search had finally borne fruit,
and an heir of Anne's had been found.
At 23 years of age,
while his family were suffering in the Blitz in London,
Barnett Myerovitch was a sergeant in the RAF, stationed in Cairo.
There, he met a Jewish Egyptian girl called Miriam Moreno,
and, in 1945, they were married in Cairo.
With this vital piece of information,
the team could find out if Barnett and Miriam had had any more children
in addition to Neil, who would also be heirs of Anne's.
We established that there were four children
from the marriage of Barnett.
Neil, who was the one bit of the jigsaw that cracked the case.
Anne's niece Zoe remembers her aunt very clearly.
Anne was the elder sister of my father.
We always called her Auntie Anne.
She was a very diminutive woman, like her mother.
I think maybe not more than 4'9", 4'10" maximum.
My mum said she was quite a stunning woman in her day,
because she was blonde, and had deep blue eyes,
and, in a Jewish community, my mum said she could have had her pick.
Although she was tiny and very fragile, she was extremely tough
and tenacious at the same time.
Growing up in a troubled part of London, residents had to be
thick-skinned and, as a family, the Myerovitchs stuck together.
Zoe remembers tales of Chalky's,
Anne's father, her grandfather's shop.
Back in the day, it was very well-known locally.
It was a sweet and tobacconist's. I don't think it sold newspapers.
People used to queue around the block for Chalky's Penny Wafers.
And then, I think, my father went off to war,
and the shop got bombed out.
Zoe's father, Barnett, died in 2006.
Sadly, his death signalled the end of her relationship
with her Auntie Anne.
After I lost my father and my mother,
I tried to...stay in touch with her,
and offered to make some sort of regular visits
to ensure some of her wellbeing, and...
she wasn't really open to that suggestion.
So, unfortunately, as a result of that, we lost touch.
What started off as a wild goose chase had now come full circle,
and four nieces and nephews had been found to inherit
Anne Harris' estate, thought to be over £5,000.
Quite satisfying, really, that we got to the heirs eventually.
Today, Zoe is glad to be reunited with memories
of her long-lost aunt, and of days gone by.
It is a bittersweet thing, because sometimes I would see
glimpses of someone that I was really fond of.
I don't have a large family.
I was quite keen on the idea and the notion of aunts and uncles,
and I used to quite like the way she sort of mothered me.
For some of my childhood, she did figure quite highly.
It's the case of retired factory worker Leslie Palmer that the team
from Finders in London are working on today,
after it came to them via a private referral.
Hopefully the same area, so if he was born in Hertfordshire...
Leslie sadly passed away in a care home in Hatfield in Hertfordshire,
aged 85 in 2009.
Ryan and the team have limited information to kick off their search
for potential heirs.
In the instruction, we received his date of birth, date of death,
and his last known address.
Yes, that was a long shot anyway.
We thought he owned his property, and we were working
on the assumption that the estate was worth over £100,000.
But since Leslie died over six years ago, it would mean Ryan
and his colleagues would have to work a little bit harder
to unearth more clues.
When Leslie Palmer's birth certificate came through,
we were able to see that his father was Enoch Palmer
and that his mother was Julie Palmer, formerly Robinson.
First, they had to find a record of his parents' marriage.
There's an Enoch Palmer marrying a Julie Robinson
in the September quarter of 1912 in West Ham.
Given that Leslie's parents were married in 1912,
and he was born in 1923, we would anticipate there may have been
some children born within that timeframe.
But, given the First World War,
there may have been a gap prior to Leslie being born.
There maybe wouldn't have been as many children to that marriage
as there would have been at any other time.
World War I disrupted families,
as fathers were enlisted to fight for their country -
exactly what happened to Leslie's father
nine years before he was born.
At the war's root was Britain and the Allied forces
going head-to-head with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Enoch Palmer enlisted in the army and, after only four months
on the front line, he was taken captive by the Germans.
He was held in an allied prisoner of war camp
called Giessen near Frankfurt.
He was captured on 12th February, 1916,
when the enemy mounted a large trench raid
against the position that his unit was holding north of Ypres.
He was one of 39 men captured on that day.
They were the lucky ones.
A number of their comrades perished.
Prisoners of war were not uncommon in these times,
and, although the men were glad to be alive,
life in captivity was tough.
The conditions in the prisoner of war camps
generally were fairly harsh.
Little food, little comfort, men were living in unheated huts,
and that sort of thing.
Luckily for Enoch Palmer,
his time as a prisoner of war wasn't as bad as it could have been.
The accounts of Giessen show that it's one of the better camps of all.
Huts were built to accommodate the men, thousands of men.
But, over the years, other facilities were added which
at least gave some social life to prison camp day-to-day existence.
Even so, as the war continued, conditions deteriorated.
Germany itself also began to struggle economically
as the war went by, with increasing shortages of food in particular,
and, naturally, this feeds down to the prison camps.
If the population around is not eating, then you can bet
the prisoners of war are going to feel the sharp end of that shortage.
Not knowing how Leslie's father was, the worry for his mother Julia
and the rest of the family was unimaginable.
Enoch would have been able to communicate with his family
only very infrequently.
There was a possibility of sending letters home,
but he knew full well that there was a censorship regime going on,
and what he was allowed to say was going to be very limited.
Some men managed to escape, but for those who didn't,
their liberation came with the end of the war, on November 11th, 1918.
In many, many of the cities, towns and villages of the country,
civic receptions were held to welcome them home.
Little parties, street parties, things going off in town halls
and the like, to welcome the prisoners of war back.
Enoch's nearest and dearest were thrilled to have him home,
and he slipped back into family life.
Although a picture was coming alive of Leslie Palmer's father,
it didn't help the heir hunters
in their quest to find his living relatives.
First of all, we would look for other births between a Palmer
and a Robinson in the London area.
We can see that Enoch and Julia had three more children.
First of all, they had Violet Isabel,
born on 30th September, 1914.
Once we had Violet's birth certificate,
we could then do a marriage search for her,
but also, given that we had her full date of birth,
it could mean we could jump another step and go directly to
identifying a potential death cert for her.
We can see that there is a Violet I Palmer born in 1914,
who died in 1964.
This would mean that she died as a spinster at the age of 50.
With confirmation that Violet had passed away with no children,
the search moved onto her younger sister, Gladys.
We can see there is a Gladys Palmer, who passed away in 1976 in Newham.
Gladys also passed away as a spinster at the age of 60 years old.
So, with two sisters providing no nieces or nephews for Leslie,
the family tree might need to be broadened to take in
maternal and paternal cousins.
But before they were forced to turn their search to aunts and uncles,
there was one more name that came to light -
an older brother of Leslie's.
If we were going to find any close kin who'd be entitled
to inherit from the estate,
all our hopes really rested on the line of Ronald Enoch Palmer.
A Ronald E Palmer's birth record was found on the birth index,
and his birth certificate was ordered.
This was how the team would confirm
if they had found the right Ronald E Palmer.
He was born on 4th September, 1919.
Again, confirming his parents' names as Enoch and Julia.
It gives us Enoch's occupation as a boot repairer.
From having Ronald's birth certificate,
we then had a look to see if we could find any marriages for him.
Given his age and his father's military background, we had to
bear in mind that he may also have been involved in active service.
Now, the good thing was, when we found his marriage entry in 1945,
we could see that, luckily, he survived the war.
He came back and married Hazel, who was about six years his junior.
We could then hope they may have had children.
If they had, they would be Leslie's nieces or nephews, and his heirs.
Luckily, we found out that himself and his wife had one son
called Brian in 1946, and another called David in 1949.
With the existence of Leslie's nephews confirmed,
it didn't take long to track them down to Essex.
My uncle Leslie was
a part of my life in the early part of my life.
We had some holidays together, we had some nice times together.
Unfortunately, we drifted apart and had become estranged,
so it was quite a shock out of the blue
when the heir hunters actually phoned me.
When I was younger, I can remember him being caring
and wanting to talk to you, and everything.
I can remember him being slim.
Always in a suit and a tie.
I suppose it was quite upsetting, really, that we found out
that our Uncle Leslie had passed away.
It would have been nice to have talked to him,
and for my family to have met him,
to have known that he was part of our family as my uncle.
After much hard work, the heir hunters were glad
they'd finally succeeded in finding Leslie's next of kin.
the earlier estimate of his estate turned out to be wrong.
Leslie didn't own his property, as they had believed.
It was a few thousand pounds, but, obviously,
this is still a welcome sum of money for anybody to receive.
There was just two heirs.
In terms of our involvement, it was still a successful case for us.
The biggest reward that I feel is actually making
some sort of contact and put some extra links in the chain
of his existence with my own father,
and the rest of the family.
Leslie's case has made Brian and David consider
their own family history.
Their father, Ronald Enoch Palmer, died in 1993, and
at the forefront of their thoughts is his experience of World War II.
He volunteered to join the Army, to go and fight for his country.
He served in Africa, North Africa. He dropped in Arnhem in a glider.
He came out, fortunate to get out of Arnhem.
And then he went to Palestine. And, from Palestine, he was demobilised.
I feel very proud of my father, because...
he went through such a lot to give us what we've got today.
With the memory books opened,
Leslie's nephews have come to the Royal Artillery Museum in London
to learn more about their father's time spent fighting for his country.
Paul Evans is the librarian here,
and has access to Ronald Enoch Palmer's war records.
So, what we have, originally, he enlists,
and he goes to the 50th Anti-tank Training Regiment,
so he was going to be an anti-tank gunner.
So that's his first fighting unit, OK?
But that's in the United Kingdom.
He was at Dover, Dover Castle, for a while.
-Would that be the time he was at Dover Castle?
That would fit very nicely indeed.
I think that's where he got a Defence Medal for that.
There's the 39-45 Star, he gets the Italy Star,
he gets the War Medal,
the France and Germany Medal and the Defence Medal.
So, we know, at some point, he's in Italy.
We know, at some point, he's in France and Germany.
And we also know he also does three years
defending the United Kingdom, so we know that.
He then passes a trade test,
-and is qualified for the appointment as an equipment repairman.
OK, so that's his job. He's now repairing all the equipment
so that anti-tank regiment and battery are using.
That's everything, from compasses up to guns.
From 1943 to 1945, he's with the 1st Airlanding Light,
and they are part of the airborne forces.
Now, air landing goes with the airborne forces,
so by glider and by parachute. What else did he tell you?
He didn't actually tell us what his progress in his career
through the Army at all.
-He just came out with snippets.
It's the development of the airborne forces,
he's been involved in it from day one.
But although Ronald Palmer was a member of the airborne forces,
his wartime experience was not spent in the air,
like David and Brian believed.
We know he's an equipment repairman.
He's not in the glider. He's not the assault troops, OK?
He's going by ship later. He's the support staff.
On 17th September, 1944,
Allied troops joined forces in the Battle of Arnhem.
The largest airborne and glider operation in history
saw 5,000 aircraft descend on the Dutch city.
Their aim was to advance into Germany and end the war.
The combined air and land mission
was known as Operation Market Garden.
Ronald Palmer was part of the operation, and arrived by road
after the landings had taken place.
So when we thought he landed in the gliders, he didn't.
-He was trying to provide them with equipment.
He'd got Germans to the left and right of him,
and everybody's shooting at him.
-So where he thought he was, he wasn't.
Unfortunately, Operation Market Garden was not a success.
The Allied forces failed, and couldn't advance further.
On the ground, Ronald and his fellow soldiers had arrived late,
and were greeted with casualties of war.
He's with the tanks trying to get there.
-Trying to get through to the...
-He's the rescue party at the other end.
They didn't get there.
They're the party that didn't get to Arnhem,
but when they got there, he got there in time to get the survivors,
so he did a vital role rescuing the survivors.
They reckon that, if they'd have took Arnhem, that would have
-shortened the war, and it would have saved a lot of lives.
The mental pressure would be immense on him.
It must have been really tough, really.
-He has not had a good war.
-No, he hasn't.
What he's seen in those...five or six years...
..must've been terrible.
After the failed mission in Arnhem,
the brothers know their father was posted to many more countries with
the 1st Airborne Regiment before the war ended and he was sent home.
He found it hard to talk about. He wouldn't talk to us about it.
Yep, absolutely. He doesn't want to remember it.
Thanks very much for going through the history.
-No problem, my pleasure.
-Yes, thank you, Paul.
Puts it all together.
Not only had the sad event of Leslie Palmer's passing reconnected him
with his estranged nephews, but they'd also been given
the gift of adding to their own family history.
It's all about memories, things that can...
we can look at, and see our uncle and our dad together.
That'll be better for us to see
rather than what any money could give us, really.
Both hunts have a tough time on the front line uncovering long forgotten tales of families reshaped by world conflicts. In a case with its roots planted firmly in London's East End, the team investigates an immigrant Jewish family who survived the horrors of Europe to endure the devastation of London in the blitz.
In Hatfield, Hertfordshire, one of the firms' travelling researchers struggles to find any clues from neighbours about a retired factory worker whose father survived a WWI prisoner-of-war camp. When the family tree begins to grow, it is an emotional journey for heirs who learn how their father's heroic army deeds made him one of WWII's silent heroes.